POW! Profiting from the Power of Surprise

Did you ever have a toy Jack-in-the-Box? No, I’m not talking about the Styrofoam bobblehead from the fast food restaurant commercials that you put on your car antennae but one of those clowns that popped out of a wooden box once you turned the crank long enough.  Even after turning that thing a million times, when that toy burst out of its box, it surprised me every time. That’s the beauty of surprise…even 30-ish years later, I still remember the anticipation and delight when the surprise was delivered.  And it’s that feeling Andy Nulman’s talking about in his book, POW: Profiting from the Power of Surprise…learning to take those basic human emotions of anticipation, excitement and delight and turn them into revenue generating activities for your organization.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Incite Unexpected Emotion

"Putting faith in Surprise can turn yesterday’s fish-wrapped news into today’s neon headlines"
- POW! Profiting from the Power of Surprise, page 19

Considering it “research” during his time as the CEO for Montreal’s comedy festival, Just For Laughs, Nulman developed something he called The Surprise Theory Quartet:

  1. Everyone’s a Kid in Disneyland
  2. Balls Beat Brains; Balls Beat Budgets
  3. Little Things Mean A Lot
  4. Sometimes, There is No Reason

Whether you’re pitching a new product, creating a customer retention program or seeking feedback on your latest product development, Nulman suggests that adding the element of Surprise (and yes, deliberately capitalizing Surprise to give it the emphasis it deserves, Nulman-style) into your campaign instantly creates an “ultra-important point of differentiation” (page 2).  It gives your campaign the “wow” factor that makes other people want to talk about it – and talk about it a lot – to their friends and family.  And who do we trust for recommendations on products and services?  Our friends and family.  Keep in mind the “ultimate goal of expanding the boundaries of delightful extremes” (page 140) and you’ll have a winner every time.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Create It

"Despite the fact that this tome may have been classified as a “Business” book by the literary powers that be, frankly, the actual act of creating Surprise is more at home in the world of art than in the world of business"
- POW! Profiting from the Power of Surprise, page 139

Art takes creativity.  It’s takes out-of-the-box thinking along with doing things that haven’t been done before – or doing things differently than they’ve always been done.  That uniqueness is the foundation of Surprise – creating a new experience for your audience – and the best way to create Surprise is to just do it.  Like learning to kiss or falling in love, you get better with practice…so get out there and practice!  Think big, think crazy and think like a kid.  First, take away the limits…brainstorm in a way we call “big sky” with no limitations on budget, timelines, political boundaries, or geography.  Don’t think of any current campaigns and what may or may not fit into the current strategic plan.  Think of ways your customers currently interact with your product or service and ways they may want to interact.  Think of how you use your product and how you’d like to use it differently.  What other products or services out there are complementary to yours and what products are complete opposites but your customers may use them in similar environments.  Like a camping lantern and a cell phone charger.  The two products hardly belong together… unless your customer is a professional who likes to camp with his family on the weekends.  Wouldn’t it be great if he could charge his electronics at the same time as he’s playing cards with his kids by lantern light? How Surprised would you be to see a plug-in on the side of the lantern?  Alternative thinking to produce unexpected results.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Keep those Surprises coming!

"Consider Surprise a rapidly perishable good that must be replenished quickly.  Expecting a Surprise only serves to accelerate this deterioration process. Maintaining the flow ensures that it never comes."
- POW! Profiting from the Power of Surprise, page 87

A great Surprise is a powerful tool to get people excited, to get people talking, and to keep people wanting more.  But unless you keep people wondering what’s going to happen next, Surprise will meet its very own kryptonite…the expected and mundane.  The weakness of Surprise is its short lifespan.  Unless we keep that Surprise coming, the short-attention span of today’s consumers will quickly move on to the next Surprising thing.  Nulman defines Surprise this way: “The constant expansion of the boundaries of delightful extremes” (page 68).  The key word in that sentence is constant… Surprise needs to be continual to be effective.  People want to keep being entertained, wondering what you’re going to pull off next, waiting with anticipation to see what the creative-types in your organization have up their sleeves.  One Surprise campaign should lead into the next and the “shock and awe” should excite and delight in different ways than your customers have experienced before.  Like the recent success of the Old Spice commercials showing a man in a shower transitioning to a scene on a boat with diamonds falling out of his hands before landing backwards on a horse. All this to sell an already popular men’s deodorant in a way that’s never been done before.  Simple product, powerful Surprise – wonder what’s going to happen next?


The beauty of Nulman’s book is that it’s written by a comedian – a guy predisposed to providing straightforward language and context that everyone can understand and relate to.  From the opening lines to the closing afterword, this book showcases Nulman’s ability to Surprise in any situation.  Using pop-culture examples as well as examples from his own experience, he takes us step-by-step through Surprise and using its elements to its most effective implementation.

Nulman’s book even had a Surprise ending…a special offer reprinted in a few copies of the book, for readers to call a number and “formally culminate your relationship with this book” (page 220).  Proving again that no matter what product you’re selling, what campaign you’re creating or what customer you’re trying to reach, the power of Surprise is only limited to your own imagination and execution.  Oh, and what happened when I called the number? It’s a Surprise…

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Lindsay Recknell

ABOUT Lindsay Recknell

Lindsay started her professional career as an accountant, moved on to HR and when she couldn't make up her mind on those two completely different career options choices, she focused on Entrepreneurship...
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